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A Game of Thrones: Genesis Review

Greg Tito | 14 Oct 2011 21:00
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Unfortunately, Genesis fails at delivering satisfying battles, an inexcusable offense for a real-time strategy game. The tooltips tell you that one military unit is better against another - possibly hoping to achieve a complexity in war similar to the intrigue - but the battles just blur into a sludgy mess of swords and horses. For some reason, you can hire several different kinds of armies using food supplied by peasants but I found it rare for crossbowmen to be any more effective than bowmen, for example. The campaign makes a point of instructing you to hide units in brush to set up ambushes, but doing so didn't seem to make much of a difference. In addition, armies can only forcibly conquer territory after war is declared - I'll get to that in a moment - so having a strong military is only really important in the last stage of the game.

When all of these options are available to the player, Genesis is very effective at delivering the sense of being the head of House Lannister or Stark. The problem is that the campaign too often restricts what you can do so you never feel like you are playing the game to its full potential when retelling famous events. Are you trying to subdue Dorne for Daemon Targaryen? All you can do is hire merchants, guardsmen and more merchants. Forget that assassin over there. He's just a drunk wearing black.

The real game shines in House vs. House mode. A selection of maps allow you to take the role of a specific house - the Neck, for example, pits Stark against Tully while the Westeros map has eight Houses available - and your goal is to earn the most prestige points. All you start with is your unnamed feudal home and your great lord (I really wish these were properly labeled) but you have every unit and tactic in the game at your disposal. The designers tried to make the Houses distinct with special units like the Stark's direwolf, and a bonus to certain units, like Lannister merchants earning 15 percent more gold. Such differences are welcome, but they don't impact the game as much as they should.

The compelling part of this mode is the threat of war as Houses vie for prestige points. You can certainly win by using only diplomacy and intrigue but with every assassination or mercenary killed, the chance for all out conflict increases. Once the meter at the top of the screen turns red, war is declared across the map, all diplomacy is impossible and the player who can muster the most armies will generally succeed. Therefore, it's important to stay at peace if you are concentrating on the non-combat game, and I liked that sending envoys with peace accords and releasing prisoners gives you the power to ride the perfect balance of keeping the Realm on the brink of war without actually engaging in battle.

It's a shame that no one seems to be playing the game. Searches for multiplayer matches come up empty and there's only so much joy to be had playing against the AI. After several matches, I was only seriously challenged in the 8-player map with the opposing House's AI turned up to Hard.

Game of Thrones: Genesis is a functional game with fun boardgame-like mechanics that ultimately would be better received if it wasn't tied to such a beloved license. As it stands now, the promise of living out dramatic events in the history of Westeros is not executed well, even if the non-combat mechanics of spies, assassins and bastards are fun in the House vs. House mode. Weaving a web of informants and diplomats is the one bright spot in an otherwise weak strategy game.

Bottom Line: Genesis is only successful at translating the intrigue of underhanded diplomacy that characterizes Martin's books, but the poor mission design and interface balances out to a firmly mediocre game.

Recommendation: Grognards completely bored with standard strategy mechanics may find it worthwhile picking up Genesis to play with the unique non-combat units. Even fans of Game of Thrones will find the rest of the game disappointing.

This review is based on the PC version of the game.

Game: A Game of Thrones: Genesis
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Cyanide
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platform(s): PC
Available from: Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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